Jesus and the Stockmarket Crash

March 15th, 2020

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To listen to the sermon click here.

Last week I left you with something to consider…that the bad thing is never the last thing. The focus of that sermon was the coronavirus. This week we encounter a turbulent, if not tumbling, stock market; and it makes me wonder:  what Jesus would say about our stock market crisis? Would he care?

It certainly is impacting Epiphany…and we know Jesus loves his Church, because the Church is the Body of Christ; so, it stands to reason that he might be a little anxious…I don’t think so, and neither do you, because Jesus never quivers nor quakes, because he knows for certain, that the bad thing is never the last thing in the Kingdom of God.

That said, it is interesting to see how, throughout the ages, Jesus has been co-opted by economic models and systems. Jesus was a “champion” of the Roman Emperor, or so they said. Then, it seems, he “fell in love” with kings and their noble rule over serfs… if you read the history the kings write.

A few centuries later the Protestant burghers said that Jesus threw his hat in with them and their hardworking, boot-strapping capitalists; we might like to think so. Then, in the sixties, some people from Latin American and college campuses and a few Catholic priests, came to believe that Jesus was actually a socialist; maybe even…(whisper) a communist.

And so, here is the good and the bad about Jesus being associated with economic models… The good is that every proponent of every model has found a way to incorporate Jesus into their system. I find this excellent that they saw a need for the Jesus’s imprimatur upon their particular world view. But where it goes wrong is: they try to squeeze the Jesus framework (known as the Kingdom of God) into their own economic model. When this happens, two unfortunate things tend to occur:

  1. They present Jesus as wildly incomplete;
  2. They weaponize Jesus to the exclusion of others. In other words, when the economic model becomes the only onramp for relationship with Jesus, the proponents of the model become the gatekeepers.

And when a gatekeeper for Jesus shows up, you know the Jesus they have behind door number one is not the Jesus of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Let me say this clearly: economic models can fit into the Kingdom of God, but the Kingdom of God cannot fit into economic models…full stop. That said, because the stock market is a little tiny ecosystem within the vast Kingdom of God, Jesus would certainly be interested in it. And the simple reason is this: that because it is within the Kingdom of God, at its best, it reflects something true about the Kingdom of God. Crazy!

Let me give you a couple of examples. Inclusion-There is a certain amount of inclusion that exists in the stock market. If you have money, which is a huge qualifier for sure; but if you have money you can buy a stock and presumably, the management of the company works equally for the profitability of every single stock, including those in your 401K or 403B. So, the stock market has aspirations of inclusion; and inclusion is a characteristic of the Kingdom of God.

Another characteristic of the stock market is relationships that together find and build new markets. Now sometimes brilliant new businesses come out of nowhere, but mostly, new businesses spring forth from the next logical activity in a series of logical activities. I’ll give you a made-up example. If you invent a word processor; the next logical invention is a printer; and then printer ink; and then a company to distribute the ink.

The stock market rewards collaboration; which means it rewards conversations; which means it rewards relationships between businesses and other businesses. In the Kingdom of God relationship is primary; relationship is a core characteristic of God’s creation. So, we have inclusion and relationship.

A third Kingdom attribute that shows up in the stock market is math. Those people on Wall Street trading in the pits and slapping together the algorithms are math people. Math has a well-established track record as an aspirational attribute within the Kingdom of God. The Desert Fathers, in the 3rd century, taught that math was right behind prayer on the ladder toward the magnification of the soul. Their hierarchy went like this: basic necessities met; personal mastery achieved; mathematical insight attained; and finally, soulful connection made with God. Math in other words, is a higher order way of understanding the Kingdom of God. Isn’t that cool? Andrew Yang would love that!

And so, the stock market reflects characteristics of the Kingdom of God. There are tendencies towards inclusion; there is the potential for authentic business to business relationships; and there is the possibility of building beautiful new markets with math.

But the stock market’s capacity to reveal characteristics of the Kingdom of God are only as successful as its ability to understand that it sits within the Kingdom of God. What tends to throw the stock market into a tailspin is that it forgets that God is God, and God is in charge, and that the stock market is not the center of the universe or even close.

What would Jesus say about a plunging stock market? Probably something very much like he said to the disciples that day when they were out in the boat on the Sea of Galilee. You know the story:  Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us go over to the other side.” So, leaving the crowd behind, they got in a boat and started rowing.  A squall came up and waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down, and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Do you have no faith?”

Can’t you see Jesus taking a nap in his chair down on the floor of the stock exchange, and his colleagues come running over and say…”Wake up the marketing is crashing!”? And Jesus stands up and glances around and lifts his hands and the graphs and the spinning numbers on the screens suddenly shift and go flat as the market stops tanking. And he says to them: “Why are you so afraid? Do you have no faith?”

Faith is another attribute of the Kingdom of God that can be practiced in a small way through participation in the stock market. Faith in the stock market is what motivates you to buy ownership in a company in the first place; you have faith in the legal system to defend your ownership position; you have faith that the company is working in your best interest as an owner; you have faith in the government to give adequate oversight of these companies. The stock market is built on faith, and that is good, but only if we recognize that this kind of faith is incomplete.

It is so easy to forget this when the stock market is surging; and then it all goes south, as it has over the past two weeks, and we remember that the foundation of the stock market is built on sand.

There is only one sure foundation – Jesus Christ. And it is because of him and him alone that we know the bad thing is never the last thing.The gift of this stock market crash, is that it gives us the chance to refocus, to pan out to our wider perspective of the Kingdom of God. And to remember that Christians are the best in the worst of times, because we have the bigger picture point of view. We know that whatever is bad in the moment, a crashing stock market, or an uncontrollable virus, sit within the larger framework of the Kingdom of God. And in God’s kingdom, God is king! God is in charge; and God loves us… and God never puts an end to anything God loves. And because we know this and believe this, we have the power to meet whatever circumstances are afoot at any given moment in time; which is why Christians are the best in the worst of times.                                          

Someday the stock market will go away. Someday history will reflect on capitalism, and socialism, and communism as quaint, quirky, and flawed economic systems of the past. And something new will emerge to replace them; something I pray, that is more inclusive, and more relational, and with more interesting math, than our current systems.

But whatever the model is it will only be as successful as its ability to fit into the bigger reality of the Kingdom of God. Christianity is the framework, the model, that makes sense of all other models. We have every reason to be confident, if not joyful, in times of anxiety and uncertainty, because the Kingdom of God is our backstop; it is the place where faith finds its firm foundation.

And so, despite momentary afflictions that seem to rage out of control we STILL give thanks to God. In the very worst times, we lift our voice to God with a resounding: Thank you, God. Thank you, Lord; Thank you, Jesus; for allowing us to be resurrection people; for we know at the core of our being that the bad thing is never the last thing.